From the heart of slow food: meals in Italy

I just returned from a press trip to Italy, and I have to report that everything Liz Gilbert says about Italy in her ubiquitous bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” appears to be quite true. Eating in Italy is enough to make you weep for what we miss in the United States.

And I don’t just mean the taste of the food, which invariably elicits moans and expressions of disbelief on the faces of the uninitiated. I mean the whole culture surrounding food in Italy. You might call it a “slow-food” culture—slow, careful growing of it, loving preparation of it, and long, multi-course meals with lots of exuberant conversation and laughter. Italians know something about eating that most of us across the great pond have forgotten: the preparing and presentation of food is not only an art form … it is an expression of love.

One Italian gentleman explained it with this story ... over dessert, of course. In the middle of a fabulous meal at this man’s in-laws’ home, the father said to the mother, “And what are we having for dinner tomorrow, my dear?”

“You mean Italians never stop thinking about food, even in the midst of eating it?” I asked.

My dinner companion shook his head. “He was not really talking about the food, you see. He was asking his wife, ‘How much are you going to love me tomorrow? Can Americans understand this?’” I think many of us can understand, but as for experiencing it … .

An Italian nutritionist told me, “If you go to work immediately after you eat, you are using the blood that should be being used to digest the food in your stomach in your brain instead.” Now why hadn’t I thought of that? Could it be because the blood I needed to think was trying to decide whether to head south or north as I sat at my computer wolfing down my lunch?

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